"I Feel Like We Are People Who Have Never Known Each Other Before": The Experiences of Survivors of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation Transitioning From Shelters to Life in the Community

  • Laura Cordisco Tsai Harvard University
  • Vanntheary Lim Chab Dai Coalition
  • Channtha Nhanh Chab Dai Coalition
Keywords: human trafficking, longitudinal research, reintegration, Cambodia, sexual exploitation, interpretive phenomenological analysis

Abstract

In this article, we explore the experiences of survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Cambodia as they transition from living in trafficking-specific shelter facilities to living in the community. We analyzed data from Chab Dai's Butterfly Longitudinal Research (BLR) project, a 10-year longitudinal study with survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Cambodia utilizing a prospective panel design. We present findings from our analysis of 236 interviews and narrative summaries of interviews conducted with survivors between the years 2011 and 2016 (n=79). An interpretive phenomenological approach was used to understand survivors' experiences during this transition. Themes included: conflicted feelings about life in the community; difficulties completing school and securing employment; violence in the community; limited follow-up; unfulfilled expectations; feeling loved like a family member in the shelter, but abandoned in the community; vulnerability in the community due to dramatic differences between shelters and the community; and varied experiences with case closure. We underscore the importance of understanding and listening to the voices of survivors about their experiences in the anti-human trafficking sector and discuss implications for the design and implementation of services for survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Southeast Asia.

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Author Biographies

Laura Cordisco Tsai, Harvard University

Dr. Laura CORDISCO TSAI is a social work researcher and practitioner specializing in human trafficking and gender-based violence. She is a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard John F. Kennedy School of Government. Dr. CORDISCO TSAI has over 15 years of experience working in Southeast Asia, predominantly in direct practice and consulting work with NGOs serving survivors of violence and exploitation. As a researcher, she conducts a combination of participatory, qualitative, and quantitative research primarily centering on the development of more empowering and effective services for survivors of human trafficking. She has served as the academic adviser for the Butterfly Longitudinal Research study since 2015 and spearheaded the analysis pertaining to survivors' perspectives on their experiences in shelter care. She holds a BA from Brown University, MSSW and PhD from Columbia University, and has received post-doctoral training in researching gender-based violence, global mental health and trauma recovery from LSHTM and Harvard Medical School.

Vanntheary Lim, Chab Dai Coalition

Ms. Vanntheary LIM serves as the project manager for the Butterfly Longitudinal Research project of Chab Dai Coalition. As a member of project's original research team, she has spent nine years conducting interviews, analyzing data, and disseminating study findings. In her role, she has collaborated on data analysis pertaining to resilience, stigma, economic reintegration, experiences of male survivors, and experiences in shelter care. She holds a double bachelor of art degree in sociology and English education in addition to a masters of development studies, all from the Royal University of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Channtha Nhanh, Chab Dai Coalition

Mrs. Channtha NHANH is the assistant project manager for the Butterfly Longitudinal Research project of Chab Dai Coalition. She has conducted interviews, collaborated on data analysis, and disseminated study findings. She has co-authored numerous publications addressing survivor resilience, perceptions of stigma, economic reintegration, experiences of male survivors, and experiences in shelter care. She holds a bachelor's of art in sociology from the Royal University of Phnom Penh and a master's degree in holistic child development.

Published
2020-01-28
How to Cite
Cordisco Tsai, L., Lim, V., & Nhanh, C. (2020). "I Feel Like We Are People Who Have Never Known Each Other Before": The Experiences of Survivors of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation Transitioning From Shelters to Life in the Community. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 21(1). https://doi.org/10.17169/fqs-21.1.3259